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Piloting Fury Part 25: Brand New KDG Read

Happy Birthday to me!  Tomorrow is my birthday, so to celebrate, this week’s version of Fury is actually a double read. While you enjoy more time with Mac, Manning and Fury, I’ll be toasting you all with the bubbly. Since we’re in lockdown once again here in England, I’ll be celebrating at home, more than likely binge watching the fantastic 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve not seen it, I can’t recommend it enough. I try to watch it every year if I can.

Mac and Manning, however, are not Elizabeth and Darcy, and there’s nothing very well mannered in their behaviour at all. As we enter the 25nd week of Fury, I hope you’re enjoying the rollicking read. If so, please spread the word and pass the link to a friend. I love to share my stories with as many people as possible. I’m offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Today, while the con was successful, the getaway doesn’t quite go as planned.

 

 

“Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.” It seemed like a no-brainer — Rick Manning’s slightly inebriated offer. If he’d been sober, he’d have remembered indentured pilot, Diana “Mac” McAlister never lost a bet. All her life she’s dreamed of buying back her freedom and owning her own starship, and when Fury’s ne’er-do-well, irritating as hell captain all but hands Fury to her on a silver platter she figures she can’t lose. She figured wrong. That’s how the best pilot in the galaxy finds herself the indentured 1st mate of a crew that, thanks to her, has doubled in size. Too late, she finds out Fury is way more than a cargo ship. Fury is a ship with a history – a dangerous history, and one that Mac’s been a part of for a lot longer than she thinks. And Rick Manning is not above cheating at poker to get her right at the center of it all, exactly where he needs her to be.

 

 

Piloting Fury Part 25: Aftermath

 

“Tell you what,” he said in a slurred voice that was dripping seduction and generously laced with greed, “how about I give you a chance to win it all back and more.” He looked me up and down, and I crossed my legs and leaned forward.

“What did you have in mind?”

“If you win, you take back your shares. If I win, you give me the coordinates for the triaxium.” When I started to protest, he placed a brandy-scented finger against my lips. “Oh don’t worry, sweetie pie, if you lose I’ll see that you have enough credits transferred into your account that you won’t have to resort to poker for a little while at least.” He pulled my hand to his lips and kissed the back of it to the tune of Manning’s rapid-fired, multi-lingual cursing in my ear. My lips twitched, but I’m no amateur. I made it look like I was about to cry.

“You would do that for me?”

“Of course I would, darlin’. I wouldn’t leave you destitute, now would I? But,” he grabbed up my hand again and began to stroke the backs of my fingers as though he were stroking something farther south, “I would expect a little … reward, if you know what I mean.”

I offered my best pout. “And what about me? What’s my reward? How do I know you can trust me, I mean you just stiffed your partner for a whole shipment of New Hibernian. I ran my teeth over my pouty lip and shook my head. “No, I think I’d better go face the music. I lost. I need to quit while I still at least have a job.”

“I’ll throw in the whiskey.” And there it was, what I’d been waiting for.

“A whole load?” I settled back into my chair, and his gaze followed my tits as I did.

“Look, I’ll be honest with you. I’ve got room in my freighter for a full load of triax from a stingray class, but not with the whiskey, which I haven’t sold on just yet. I was holding out to trade with some New Sumerians just in from the Far Outer. They’ll pay a fortune for it.

I leaned forward my biggest smile leading the way, then I looked around to make sure no one was listening. “How’d you like a new partner?”

“What did you have in mind,” he said stroking my arm and all but drooling in my cleavage.

“Well,” I wriggled in my seat. “My crew are losers. I can’t count the number of times they’ve cheated me out of my fair share, and they never listen to me. I could have made us a fortune in the Outer Rim several times over if they’d only just taken my advice, followed up on my research, but no. I’m just the pilot. I’m not the captain, who is an idiot, by the way,” I said with a wave of my hand.

“Watch it,” Manning chuckled into my implant.

“It’ll take them a week, maybe more to get the equipment together, and then there are the permits. They’re actually going to get permits, can you believe it?” His eyes were getting bigger and brighter by the moment. “Our cargo bay is empty, plenty of room for a load of whiskey, and I’m the pilot, I can drop the shields and we can mol-tran the whiskey right on over. You did say you had mol-tran, didn’t you?” I didn’t wait for his reply. “Then you’ll have room for all that triax. If we leave now, we can mol-tran the triax, sell it on, and be back in time for Carnival in the Riviera. We can just let my soft-headed crew have the whiskey, that’s nothing, that’s chump change compared to the triax. What do you say?” I reached into my handbag and pulled out a couple of decent sized nuggets of ore that Manning had onboard the Fury. “I couldn’t resist taking these little babies just for luck, you know?” I ran my palm over his chest and all but purred. “I’d certainly say my luck has just changed.”

“Both our luck, partner,” he said squeezing my hand. By this time I’d learned to totally ignore Manning’s ongoing derogatory monologue. “All I need are the coordinates, Layla,” Blake said. I’d told him my name was Layla Bridges. It was actually the name of a series of obscure bridges my father had taken me to visit in a remote region of the Plitak System. They were ancient, built of stone spanning countless, rivers and waterfalls. It was the last trip I’d made with my father before he was bonded to the Merlin.

“Here we go, I’ve just lowered the shields so you can mol-tran the whiskey. Oh heavens, I’m so excited.” I gave him Fury’s coordinates.

“I’m ‘tranning them over now,” he said.

“Hold it.” I brushed my cleavage against his arm and settled close enough to see his device while he set up the ‘tran lock. “What’s that?”

He zoomed in. “Polyphemian musk oil. Huge shipment,” he said. “I traded a Digan for it. Practically stole it. Poor bastard didn’t know what he had, since Digan’s have no sense of smell, they’re not susceptible.”

But everyone else was very susceptible, and I knew it. Polyphemian musk oil was one of the most expensive, most coveted aphrodisiacs in the galaxy. “Well, you’d better do something with it because you’ll need all that space for the triax, trust me you will, and even then I’m not sure you can get it all on board.”

The greedy bastard expanded the lock and this time Manning’s curses sounded more like a prayer of surprised thanksgiving. Blake and I watched as both the whiskey and the musk oil disappeared from his cargo bay. I passed the coordinates for the non-existent triaxium to his device just as Fury confirmed that our cargo hold was indeed very full.

“Partners!” I gave a drunken little squeal and launched myself at Blake in a busty hug that he returned with gusto. Then I toddled unsteadily off to the ladies room to freshen up, I told him. I knew exactly what would happen next.

I had a much-needed pee after drinking enough ginger beer to float a battle cruiser. Then I took my time freshening up and toying with my hair until Manning spoke into my implant.

“You, my darling, have just been stood up. Blake will be halfway across the Ingrid Expanse before you have your nose powdered.”

If there’s one thing a Polyphemian craved more than sex, it was the opportunity to scam a deal. The deal I just pulled off made me wonder if there might be a tad bit of Polyphemian floating around in my own genetic soup somewhere.

“The musk oil alone is worth three times what the whiskey is,” Manning whispered in my ear. “Bloody hell, you were born to this business, woman! Tonight we celebrate.”

I pumped my fist in the air with a victory salute, and gave the holo-mirror a shit-eating grin while giving myself one last inspection before returning to Manning. My mind was completely focused on the celebration aboard the Fury that might possibly involve more of Manning’s lips when I walked out the door and ran smack dab into Gerando Fallon.

He was drunk, like he always was. The eldest son and a blight on the family name, his father always said. But as far as I was concerned the whole goddamned family was a blight on the galaxy. Gerando was the one who had dragged me into the Faribaldi among other unpleasant things. Before panic could override surprise, survival instincts that had kept me alive all these years, kicked in. With my head down, I mumbled an apology in High Digan and spoke in the mincing little girl voice Digan women used when they interacted in public. But he grabbed me anyway.

“Hey sweet tits,” he pulled me up close into the stomach knotting scent of whiskey, sweat and testosterone. I tried to breathe through my mouth. I knew his scent way too well not to know that before the night was over some woman would end up in a bad way, and it sure as fuck wasn’t going to be me, not this time. He gave my butt a groping squeeze, and I pushed back. “You go running into a man dressed like that and you’re liable to get you pert little ass fucked.” He slapped my butt, and turned away. I thought he’d let me by, I thought he was heading for the pisser.

The wave of nausea passed into an instant of relief so overpowering that I could do nothing but gasp. He didn’t recognize me. The fucker didn’t recognize me. I kept my head low and had damn near made my escape, when, he grabbed my arm in a bruising grip and jerked me back with an evil growl.

“Seriously! Did you think I wouldn’t recognize you, McAllister? Did you really think you were going to get away with it?” He gripped my chin in his hand in a vicious squeeze and lifted my head so I had no choice but to meet his gaze. “Just look at you, all healthy and smooth-skinned, half naked and begging for it. It’d be ashamed for me not to take advantage before the old man gives you a nice hefty dose of the plague.” He jerked me in until we were nose to nose, and the alcohol of his breath nearly made me gag.

“How the hell did a skanky little indentured come up with the money to get her shackle neutralized, that’s what I wanna know. Though I imagine that bleeding heart Harker had a hand in it. Don’t tell me this Manning bastard decided to free you to keep his cock warm. He could have saved himself a whole lot of credits by just buying himself a Hanorian whore. I hear lots of lonely smugglers keep one or two onboard for scratching the itch. Still, neutralizing your shackle cost him less than its costing my old man to hunt you down, so there must be something about your worthless ass that makes men putty in your hands. How ‘bout you show me just exactly what it is.” He gave me a teeth-rattling shake and pulled me up on my toes until I was pressed against his sweaty stink.

I’m not sure if it was rage or terror that won out, but adrenaline shot through me like a rush of Digan fire dust. I stomped down hard against the inside of his shin. My balance was off just enough for it to be only a glancing blow, but it was enough for me to break and run, with him cursing loudly right on my tail. I barely made it to the back door before he was on me, pulling me back by the hair. “You little bitch, the old man should have infected you properly when he had the chance.” He reeled me in close and spoke next to my ear. “The old man’s birthday’s coming up. I haven’t got him a gift yet. You’ll do nicely, and I’m sure he won’t mind if I test drive you first.”

“Get off her, Fallon. He will mind and you know it, now get off her.”

I squirmed in his arms to see Leo Rab, from the Dubrovnik, striding toward Fallon like he was being chased by Valkyries.

Before I could speak, Fallon grabbed me around the throat and hauled me up on my toes with me gasping and choking for breath.

“Fuck you, Rab. The ole man isn’t here, and this whore is.” As he reached for his fly, I brought the crown of my head up hard under his chin, jarring his whole head back. He cursed profusely and stumbled back right into Rab, just as Manning shoved his way around the two, slid his arms around me and pulled me close.

“Get us out,” Manning spoke softly and as calmly as if he were just telling me the latest gossip. “Hold tight.” And before I could utter more than a shocked little yelp, Fallon’s surprised face bloomed bright then went thin and faded, then for a split second the world blinked out of existence.

“She got away. She fucking got away! He’s gonna kill me.” The kid kicked over a table, upsetting the poker game going on and sending the punters scrambling before he started on them, then he picked up one of the cheap-assed chairs and threw it through the cheap-assed wall. “I’m gonna rip that rat bastard, Manning’s, throat out! I’m gonna fry his brains out with a mol-gun and leave him to drool and shit himself.”

“All right! All right, goddamnit!” Rab gasped, all but dragging the boy out into the alley to cool down before he wrecked anything else in the Corsair in a blind rage. Fucking good thing his old man was loaded. Hadn’t taken him long to do some serious damage. Shit, the kid was scary in his rage. “He had her in a mol-tran lock, Junior. There was nothing we could do. Bloody hell, I’ve never seen anything that accurate.”

“Come on.” The kid jerked away. “Let’s go find Blake and beat the truth out of him. He’ll know where they’re at. Surely he’ll know.”

Rab grabbed him and swung him around. “How the hell will he know where they’re at? Weren’t you paying attention? Think, ya little twit. Blake doesn’t fucking know McAllister or he sure as hell wouldn’t have been playing cards with her. He doesn’t know anything about why we want Manning and the Fury. Hell he thinks Manning is shackled and on his way to hard labor in the triax mines. Whatever the hell McAllister told him, you can bet it wasn’t the truth. We took a gamble that she would even be here.”

Junior let fly a string of curses that would have curled Rab’s hair – if he had any. Before Rab could respond, the kid drove his fist into the wall with so much force that knuckles cracked, and the smell of blood added to the stink of piss and puke in the alley. His shoulders slumped and he looked down at his mangled hand like it was a total surprise to him. He didn’t resemble his father much at all just then, Rab thought.

“He’s going to kill me.” He said softly, and he began to shiver like they were on Arctica Major instead of balmy Outer Kingston. “He’s going to kill me.”

“Hey! Hey, calm down. Let’s get that hand looked at.” Jesus, he couldn’t believe he was being buddy-buddy with the little shit, but his old man had really done a number on him. “You’re the bearer of the family jewels, remember. He ain’t gonna kill you.” Frankly it was what might happen that didn’t involve death that worried Rab a whole lot more, though he kept his worries to himself. He wouldn’t put anything past Fallon senior. Having the pleasure of seeing the interaction between the two just during his time onboard the Ares, he had to say, he understood exactly why the kid was such a fucked up mess.

 

Piloting Fury: Part 19 Brand New KDG Read

I hope those of you who celebrate it had a safe and happy Thanksgiving. For those of you who are taking advantage of Black Friday, please stay safe. But today’s not just Black Friday for shoppers, it’s Fury Friday for readers. It’s time for another escape to deep space for a rollicking read.  In a NaNoWriMo  update, with ten days to go, I just passed the 78K mark. My characters are taking me on a wild and wonderful ride leading to some late night and early morning unexpected writing adventures. The new Medusa Consortium novel is full of surprises form the readers, and certainly for me as I write it. What fun!

I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury as we enter the 19th week. If you are, please spread the word and pass the link to a friend. I love to share my stories with as many people as possible. I’m offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Today, Today Mac and Fury ride the storm out while Stanislovski treats Manning for some mysterious illness. Happy reading, and stay safe out there!

 

 

“Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.” It seemed like a no-brainer — Rick Manning’s slightly inebriated offer. If he’d been sober, he’d have remembered indentured pilot, Diana “Mac” McAlister never lost a bet. All her life she’s dreamed of buying back her freedom and owning her own starship, and when Fury’s ne’er-do-well, irritating as hell captain all but hands Fury to her on a silver platter she figures she can’t lose. She figured wrong. That’s how the best pilot in the galaxy finds herself the indentured 1st mate of a crew that, thanks to her, has doubled in size. Too late, she finds out Fury is way more than a cargo ship. Fury is a ship with a history – a dangerous history, and one that Mac’s been a part of for a lot longer than she thinks. And Rick Manning is not above cheating at poker to get her right at the center of it all, exactly where he needs her to be.

 

Piloting Fury Part 19: Riding the Storm Out

As it turned out, the ride was way rougher than I’d anticipated. We’d had even less warning than the Pandora Base computer had predicted. When it became clear I wouldn’t be able to fly straight out, nor was I able to jump, I had no choice but to ride out the storm, seeking with Fury’s telemetry, the levels where the winds were less fierce, and that wasn’t saying much. For the next four hours, I had little time to think about what was going on in Manning’s quarters. There were no updates from Stanislovski on his condition. I figured they were as busy trying to keep from being battered to death while Fury bucked and twisted, as I was. It took all my focus, and then some, just to keep the winds from tearing us apart. “I got you,” I spoke under my breath. “Hang on Fury, work with me, just work with me. Don’t worry. I got you.”

“Diana Mac, I am not programed to worry,” came the calm response from the ship’s computer.

“Wish I could say the same. Any suggestions?”

“Hang on, Diana Mac. I got you.” Came the response, and I gave what couldn’t have been less than a maniacal laugh.

“But you were programed with a sense of humor, I see.”

“Not a very fucking good one, as Richard Manning often reminds me.”

“Well, what the hell does Manning know anyway,” I managed before we hit an eddie that all but spun us a three-sixty, and I cursed and fought the wave feeling like Fury really was working with me, anticipating my efforts, like a lover, I thought. Not that I’d ever had one – a lover that is. Not that I’d ever had a ship of my own either. But then again, Fury wasn’t really mine.

“Diana Mac, sensors indicate a calmer airstream three thousand meters lower.”

“I’m on it! Thanks Pal,” I said.

There was a strange sound from the com that sounded almost like a chuckle. I certainly hoped it wasn’t a malfunction because I sure as hell had no time to fix the computer. “You all right?” I ask.

“Five by five … Pal.”

I smiled, gritted my teeth and fought to bring us down to the altitude Fury recommended, which, while it wasn’t spinning us about like a mad centrifuge, was bone jarring and teeth rattling at best.

“Can you set broken bones?” I managed as the ship juddered and bounced.

“My auto surgery is programmed for general orthopedic damage to humanoids. Are you broken, Diana Mac?”

“No. I’m fine,” I managed correcting hard left. Then I chuckled, “My sense of humor’s not very fucking good either.”

For the next hour, I didn’t speak, and neither did Fury, though I felt the ship working with me as clearly as I felt the movement of my own hands across the consol. It was as though the ship were anticipating my every move. I’d had moments like that onboard the Dubrovnik, moments of connection, moments when I was so in tune with the ship that it felt as though my very skin had dissolved and whatever boundary separated ship from pilot temporarily disappeared. But it was only ever momentary, and never really very personal. Lots of pilots felt that connection on those occasions when the situation demanded the most from the pilot and the ship. But the components that were always working in the equation of me piloting the Dubrovnik, the failsafe barriers and safety protocols separating ship from pilot didn’t exist with the Fury. Somehow I had more control, and that seemed to, in some strange way, give the ship more control as well. With Fury, I realized, we were always skin-to-skin.

“I recommend supplement AR 1.” Fury’s computer interrupted my ruminations.

“For what? What’s supplement AR1?” I asked, taking us up again to a higher level that was no less turbulent, but brought us closer to our goal of escaping the upper atmosphere.

“It will help you feel less tired, more energetic. It is Richard Manning’s own formula.”

“What does the AR stand for, I asked?”

“Adrenalin Rush.”

I laughed and risked taking the ship up a little higher still. “Oh that sounds delightful. But maybe later. I think we’re almost free.”

“Sensors indicate that we are, indeed almost free of the planet’s atmosphere.”

“What do you think? Shall we risk an attempt to break the bitch?”

“The odds are fifty-fifty, Diana Mac. Worth the gamble.”

I laughed and nosed us up a little more. “Has Manning been playing poker with you, because he cheated, you know?”

“Of course he cheated.” Came the reply. “I did warn him that he would lose, if he attempted such an illogical wager against you.”

“Oh?” The ship began to judder hard, and I gritted my teeth, forced the nose up another few meters and leveled off again. “So he ignored you?”

“He did not ignore me, Diana Mac. He took my advice.”

“You told him to cheat?”

For a moment there was silence as the ship bucked and shimmied, and I feared I’d have to bring us back down again. “Goddamn it! I’m sick of this shit, and I’m starving, Fury let’s get the fuck out of this mess.”

“Don’t worry, Diana Mac. I got you,” came the reply.

We took a bloody battering, but together we kept our nose up and didn’t retreat, until finally, after what felt like an eternity, we pulled free of the planet’s exosphere with a sudden burst of acceleration that had my stomach in my throat and my brain about to pop out my eyeballs. I think I might have let out some very undignified war whoop, and then we were free. The Fury settled like a seabird on calm water, and I ran a hand, suddenly none too steady, across my sweaty forehead.

“We did it,” I managed once I was sure all my innards were back in their proper place.

“Fucking A,” came the response that had me laughing out loud.

“You’ve spent too much time around Manning,” I said.

I had read that Plague One was noted for it’s horrendous planet-wide storms, and from the beginning the plague colonies had been built below ground. No one could have survived on the surface in a full blown planet-wide, and what made the storms even worse was that the only safe distance was beyond high orbit.

Once we were out of harm’s way, too exhausted to move, I just sat and looked back at the planet, ghost white against the black of deep space, it’s own sun little more than a distant yellow speck. The entire atmosphere was a mesmerizing jumble of massive hurricane swirls. Goose bumps rose along my spine and I laid a hand on the console. “We did good,” I spoke softly to Fury. “We’re still alive. We did real good.”

“Real good, indeed,” came the response.

“So,” I said gazing down at Plague One still in the throes of the storm. “You advised Manning to cheat me at poker?”

“I did. Yes.”

“Mind telling me why?”

There was a long pause, and I half expected the ship’s computer to ask me to rephrase the question. But at last Fury answered. “I needed a decent pilot.”

I smiled in spite of myself. “Well you got the best now, but that’s a helluva way to get you one.”

“Indeed.”

I let my mind swirled with the clouds, as I slumped deeper into the pilot’s chair nearly falling asleep before my stomach growled. Then I undid my restraints and stumbled to the galley. I stopped at Manning’s door and lifted a hand to knock, but then thought better of it.

By the time I reached the galley and replicated a peanut butter sandwich and a cup of coffee, I was wondering if Manning was even still alive. Surely Stanislovski would have commed me if his situation had worsened. Not that I could have done anything. What if they were both dead? I mean the storm was seriously rough going. If they hadn’t been able to strap in in time, anything might have happened. I took a bite of my sandwich and scalded my mouth on the coffee.

“Fury, can you tell me Manning’s condition,” I asked. Then I shot a glance over my shoulder just in case the man was watching, as he’d been known to do.

“Richard Manning is resting comfortably,” Fury’s computer replied.

“And Ina Stanislovski?”

“Ina Stanislovski is resting comfortably. Their vital signs are normal, and Richard Manning is fully recovered from his incident.”

Relief left me feeling like my bones had turned soft. I glanced over my shoulder again. “Fury, can you tell me what Manning’s condition is?”

“I cannot,” came the response.

“Cannot or will not?”

“You must ask Richard Manning.”

“Do you knowwhat Richard Manning suffers from?”

“Of course I do. He is my captain.”

“But you’re not authorized to tell me.”

“I am not.”

“Bloody bastard.” I didn’t bother to speak quietly. I didn’t care if he heard me. “I’m his goddamn pilot. Doesn’t he think I have a right to know if he suffers from some debilitating disease that leaves me alone and in charge at the absolute worst possible time?” Then I tried another approach. “Has he had this condition long?”

“All of his life.”

Then it hit me like an orca class freighter. “Is that why he made the bet with me? Is he no longer able to captain you alone?”

“His condition is stable, and he is quite capable of performing his duties to me. You were brought onboard for other reasons.”

“What other reasons?”

“Because I needed a pilot,” came the reply.

“You’re not very fucking good at lying either, Fury.” I shoved half my sandwich into my mouth, and chewed angrily. “Stupid me. I’m just the fucking indentured. You’re probably not authorized to tell me anything. I’m just an expendable tool.”

“We are all expendable tools, Diana Mac. I do not understand your anger.”

“Never mind. It doesn’t matter. It’s not important.” Since there was nothing I could do about being kept in the dark where Manning’s condition was concerned, I pulled up the Pilot’s log and entered as much detail about the storm as I could remember, checking back over the computer records of the past four hours. The only sound in the galley was the soft hum of the life support systems.

 

Piloting Fury: Part 18 Brand New KDG Read

It’s Friday and time for more Fury, and another escape to deep space for a little RR – that’s reading relief for those of us who’d rather have our noses in a good book.  In a NaNoWriMo  update, with ten days to go, I just reached the 50K mark, which is the basic goal of NaNoWriMo. But I’m a long way from finishing the novel. As I have said before, for me, writing a new novel is as much of a sanity saving escape as a good read. And yes, my characters are still keeping me up late and get me up early for an extra hour or two of writing.  The new Medusa Consortium novel is coming along nicely, and it’s great to be back with Magda and the gang.

I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury as we enter the 17th week. If you are, please spread the word and pass the link to a friend. I love to share my stories with as many people as possible. I’m offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Today, as a storm descends on Plague,  Mac finds herself having to pilot Fury to safer with no help from Manning. Happy reading, and stay safe out there!

 

 

“Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.” It seemed like a no-brainer — Rick Manning’s slightly inebriated offer. If he’d been sober, he’d have remembered indentured pilot, Diana “Mac” McAlister never lost a bet. All her life she’s dreamed of buying back her freedom and owning her own starship, and when Fury’s ne’er-do-well, irritating as hell captain all but hands Fury to her on a silver platter she figures she can’t lose. She figured wrong. That’s how the best pilot in the galaxy finds herself the indentured 1st mate of a crew that, thanks to her, has doubled in size. Too late, she finds out Fury is way more than a cargo ship. Fury is a ship with a history – a dangerous history, and one that Mac’s been a part of for a lot longer than she thinks. And Rick Manning is not above cheating at poker to get her right at the center of it all, exactly where he needs her to be.

 

Piloting Fury: Part 18 A Small Dose of Truth

“How can this be?” I asked, as a waitress in a vintage uniform served me a burger and fries and what she called a milk shake, informing me that everything I was about to ingest was either grown or synthesized on Pandora Base. No real meat, I was told, and since I had no idea what a burger and fries was supposed to taste like, I didn’t know the difference.”

“This is Professor Keen’s creation,” Manning said, looking from him to me and back, as though hoping that would placate me.

“Actually, we all worked together to create Pandora Base. It was just my design,” the man replied sipping at a cup of coffee.

“Like the SNTs?” I said.

He looked down into his cup and inhaled a deep breath. “Like the SNTs, yes.”

“And how many died in the creating of this little project?” The minute I asked it, I knew it was a stupid question.

“Thousands. I can give you exact numbers if you’d like. While we built Pandora Base, we were still working on the cure, and even when we got it right, it was difficult to synthesize without ingredients we had to have smuggled in.” He scrubbed his hand over his face as if by doing so he could erase the memory. “Everything had to be smuggled in back then. Some died just because we couldn’t get what we needed in time to save them. Those were the hardest deaths to bear. It’s only been the last ten standard years that we’ve been totally self-sufficient.”

“And the ships, the SNTs? How many millions died because of them, and you sent them out there, and you bonded my father.”

“There was nothing wrong with the ships. They were perfect!” He leaned so far over the table, I thought he would climb on top of it. The raw emotion in his voice crackled through the air like static. “Their bondings were perfect. Every contingency planned for, well-thought out, tested and retested. Every humanoid perfectly matched to his ship. It was the virus, it was the damn virus.” He dropped back into the booth and slapped the table so hard that the cutlery rattled.

“The SNTs would have brought the galaxy to the brink of peace. Another generation of ships would have revolutionized space travel with their speed only limited by the speed of human thought. That would have meant a more mobile workforce, and it would have opened up other uses for bonded technology that would have, within less than a generation, completely done away with the need for indentureds. Think about it, indentureds are the work force that keeps the conglomerates and the oligarchs in power. Fortunes have been amassed and empires built on the backs of indentured. What may have started out as a way to pay off debt has become an economic necessity.”

I folded my arms across my chest. “You’re not saying anything every citizen and every indentured doesn’t already know, Keen.”

Manning waved a hand to shush me, and Keen continued.

“At the time, there was already a motion before the Authority to begin the emancipation of indentured. Then the Perigrine incident happened, and everyone blamed the SNT ships, everyone said they weren’t stable. Within a few months several more went rogue. Diana,” he held my gaze with pleading eyes, “you and everyone on Pandora Base knows that the SNT virus was engineered to keep indentureds in line. There’s no way it would have infected a sentient ship. At least not as it was. It was engineered, never was it naturally occurring.” He looked down at my forearm. “It was engineered specifically for the shackle. But with the SNTs’ biological matrix, it could have just as easily been reengineered to infect a sentient ship. With just a little tweaking, the makeup of the virus that affects the brain in advanced stages of the infection could be magnified and manipulated so that it was the component of the virus that was injected into the sentient ships. That’s exactly what happened with the Peregrine and with the other ships. Your father discovered this — he and the Merlin. The Merlin had already been infected, but the bond was strong enough between the ship and your father that he was able to diagnose the problem and get the word to me. I made the mistake of taking the information your father gave me to someone in the Authority I thought I could trust. The next thing I knew, I was on a plague ship being sent here, deliberately infected, and your father and the Merlin had sacrificed themselves for nothing.” His voice had become a tight, vicious whisper and the fever in his eyes looked more like an inferno.

My pulse beat in my ears like a flock of pigeons taking flight, and the tightness in my throat made speaking impossible.

At last Keen continued. “With the mass destruction caused by the infected ships, naturally public opinion turned completely against the SNT project, just like the Authority wanted. Up until that time the virus was known only by name V1. Most people just referred to it as ‘the virus.” But after the SNT disaster, it became known as the SNT virus. Rumor even spread that the ships had engineered it on their own for the purpose of destruction, never mind that they didn’t used it and never mind that it destroyed them. By that time the evidence was irrelevant. Emotions had been whipped into a frenzy, and what blame I didn’t get, your father got. That’s the truth of it, Diana. I swear to you. ”

I sat for a moment, feeling the world spinning out of control around me. It wasn’t that I ever had any control, but if what Keen said was true, then I felt more helpless, more trapped than ever.

Keen took a deep shaky breath and spoke into the silence. “I … I was sent to Plague One to die a long and painful death, and your father was saddled with the crime he didn’t commit, and the debt of the loss of the Merlin, which was all kindly passed on to you.” That part of the story I knew and lived with every day. I had no doubt Fallon had known this all along – even been a part of the downfall of the SNTs most likely. And for him, I was just a reminder of a job well done.

The clatter of Manning’s coffee cup hitting the floor brought us rudely back to the present. “I’m sorry. Clumsy of me,” he said, reaching for a handful of napkins from the vintage dispenser and scooting from the booth, where he promptly fell to his knees with a pained gasp.

“Manning, what is it? What’s wrong?” I clamored out after him, ignoring the shard of the broken mug slicing through my jumpsuit and into my knee, as I did so. “What’s wrong? Manning talk to me, damn it.”

“I need to get back to Fury, back to my quarters, then I’ll be just fine. Don’t worry.” The words were barely out of his mouth before he began trembling so hard I feared his bones would break. He forced a laugh between gritted teeth. “Talk about lousy timing. Mac, you’re knee’s bleeding. Best take care of it.” He offered me a napkin, but dropped it with a sharp groan as he doubled over, like someone had punched him in the gut.

“Forget my goddamned knee, it’s just a cut. Tell me what’s wrong?” In my peripheral vision, Keen was now standing, braced against the table with his hand extended to Manning. Between the two of us, we got him back into the booth just as the uni-com system crackled and a computerized female voice spoke.

Warning, all personnel return immediately to Pandora Base. P-Blizzard Epsilon will be planet wide in T-minus 40 minutes. Repeat all personnel return immediately to Pandora Base. P-Blizzard Epsilon will be planet wide in T-minus 40 minutes.

A siren began to wail outside in the biosphere’s main street.

“It wasn’t predicted to hit that fast,” Keen said, fumbling for his personal device in his pocket. “That means it’ll be a deep atmosphere storm.”

Manning grabbed my arm. “Get me back to my quarters, and get the Fury a safe distance from the planet.”

“You’re not fit to go anywhere,” I said, settling his parka around him. “I’m sure Dr. Keen can –”

“Do it, Mac. That’s an order.”

“Listen to him,” Keen said, helping him into the parka, and motioning me to put on mine. “He knows what he needs, and it’ll take you at least thirty minutes to get the Fury prepped and out of orbit.”

Manning fisted my parka in a wave of pain and then hissed between gritted teeth, “Mac, if you don’t get Fury out of high orbit, there’ll be no ship left to move.” Then Manning was leaning on both of us as we half dragged half carried him into the street, which was a hive of organized chaos as everyone prepared for the storm.

“We can mol-tran you two from Main Street,” Keen said. “In this weather, it’s not likely we could even get containment outside the airlock. It’s unusual for a P-level storm to breach so quickly, but it happens.”

Just outside the door of the diner, Ina Stanislovski joined us already dressed in her parka and storm gear. “I’m coming with,” she said falling into step.

“Ina can help,” Keen explained. “You can send her back as soon as the storm breaks.”

She took Keen’s place supporting Manning on the other side and Keen pulled out his device. Then he stopped and turned to me.

“I know you have a million questions, Diana, questions I’ll happily answer. Com me. I’m in Fury’s database under Kandenski. It was my mother’s family name.” And then he stepped back and spoke into his device. “Three for Mol-tran to Fury.”

The next thing I knew we were standing in the ship’s corridor in front of Manning’s quarters, with me feeling like I’d left half my innards on Pandora Base.

Stanislovski gave her belly a quick fisted rub, clearly feeling the same. “Always a rougher mol-tran from inside the base,” she said offering a reassuring smile.

“Get Fury out of orbit,” Manning managed, leaning heavily on Stanislovski. “I’m
counting on you, Mac.”

“I’ll see to Rick,” the woman said, and the next thing I knew the door to his cabin opened just wide enough to admit the two of them, then slammed shut and locked behind them leaving me standing in the corridor next to the bridge.

I felt the click of the locking mechanism like a slap, but I had more important things to dwell on than what I swear was absolutely not jealousy. I turned away, strapped myself into the pilot’s chair just as the whole ship lurched wildly. “Buckle in,” I announced over the com, already checking telemetry and trajectory “We’re in for a rough ride.”

 

 

Piloting Fury Part 15: Brand New KDG Read

It’s Friday and that means time for more Fury. A cheerful hello, while I eat my morning porridge. I hope you’re all settling into Autumn with lovely walks in the glorious changing colours and much good reading. Isn’t that just the best part of this changeable season?

I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury as we enter the 15th week. If you are, please share the word and pass the link to a friend. I love to share my stories with as many people as possible. I’ll be offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. In this episode, Captain Harker recalls how Diana McAllister ended up the pilot of the Dubrovnik.

 

 

 

“Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.” It seemed like a no-brainer — Rick Manning’s slightly inebriated offer. If he’d been sober, he’d have remembered indentured pilot, Diana “Mac” McAlister never lost a bet. All her life she’s dreamed of buying back her freedom and owning her own starship, and when Fury’s ne’er-do-well, irritating as hell captain all but hands Fury to her on a silver platter she figures she can’t lose. She figured wrong. That’s how the best pilot in the galaxy finds herself the indentured 1st mate of a crew that, thanks to her, has doubled in size. Too late, she finds out Fury is way more than a cargo ship. Fury is a ship with a history – a dangerous history, and one that Mac’s been a part of for a lot longer than she thinks. And Rick Manning is not above cheating at poker to get her right at the center of it all, exactly where he needs her to be.

 

Harker Remembers

He disposed of the trifle and moved to look out the portal into the blackness of space. He’d always found comfort in it. It had always felt like home to him. That humanoids had extended their consciousness out into the far reaches of its inhospitable darkness had always given him hope, made him feel proud. At least until recently. Be safe little girl, he spoke the words in his head, the only place it was safe to speak them. Diana Mac had always seemed like a little girl to him from the instant he first saw her, a young woman in a scrawny, undernourished body, frail enough that he feared a breeze might blow her away. And in spite of her condition, it had been her raw, uncompromising strength of will, courage to endure, that had astounded him. Her dark hair had been shorn so close to her head that, in her malnourished state, she could have passed for a boy. And even after she had put some meat on her bones and her hair had grown thick and glossy, those large blue eyes, her father’s eyes, dominated the landscape of a beautiful face that belied the horrors, the ugliness she had endured. Little girl … even after she had grown strong and healthy in her new life, the name had stuck.

Only he called her little girl. Nicknames were a captain’s privilege. The rest of the crew called her Pilot because they didn’t know what else to call the indentured woman who could pilot anything, find any route, guide them through meteor storms and asteroid fields like they were floating on a sea of glass. They didn’t know what else to call a woman whose father had been either a notorious villain or a tragic hero, and none knew for sure which. They didn’t know what else to call someone with no formal training, with such vibrant talent, who bore the shackle and the scars of the mistreatment of her owner, their employer.

It seemed like an eternity ago now that he had taken the gamble that her piloting skills were what he’d hoped they would be. While Fallon was inspecting the Dubrovnik, Harker had made his wager. He bet that Diana McAllister could find a new route, a faster route from Terra Nova Prime to the Asteroid Provinces of the mining colonies in the time it took Fallon to inspect the rest of the conglomerate freighters and enjoy the party in the captain’s dining room. Though he had stacked the decks slightly in her favor. He had known that her father was searching for just such a route, a route that would revolutionize trade, and in their last communication, he said he thought he’d found it. He was counting on the fact that he had told his daughter. He left her in the chart rooms with free access to the replicator, figuring she could use all the nourishment she could get. If she succeeded, she was to stay onboard the Dubrovnik as its pilot, and she was to systematically revamp the Bright Star trade routes through the Authority systems and beyond into the free trade zones.

He could have cried for joy when she did it, when he won — if not her freedom, at least access to a better life for her. He had plans of giving her the pilot’s quarters, paying her for her efforts, making her as comfortable as he possibly could, in some way compensating for what had been stolen from her. But alas, even onboard the Dubrovnik, she came with strict orders from Fallon concerning treatment and accommodation, and Harker was left with limited abilities to make her life better.

McAllister had made the Dubrovnik the most profitable ship in the Bright Star conglomerate’s fleet, in any fleet. Then she had literally revamped all the Bright Star trade route to faster, more efficient ones, making Fallon and Bright Star still more money. Whatever had caused profitability to become second priority to bringing Diana McAllister back to Terra Nova Prime, Harker didn’t know. He only knew that she wasn’t there yet, and that was cause for hope.

 

Piloting Fury Part 5: New KDG Free Read

Happy Friday my Lovelies! I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury. I you are, please share the word. Something entertaining to read in lockdown goes a long way for passing the time happily, and I’ll be offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Last week, Rab got to live, but it cost him big time. This week Diana Mac reports for duty onboard the Fury.

 

Piloting Fury

“Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.” It seemed like a no-brainer — Rick Manning’s slightly inebriated offer. If he’d been sober, he’d have remembered indentured pilot, Diana “Mac” McAlister never lost a bet. All her life she’s dreamed of buying back her freedom and owning her own starship, and when Fury’s ne’er-do-well, irritating as hell captain all but hands Fury to her on a silver platter she figures she can’t lose. She figured wrong. That’s how the best pilot in the galaxy finds herself the indentured 1st mate of a crew that, thanks to her, has doubled in size. Too late, she finds out Fury is way more than a cargo ship. Fury is a ship with a history – a dangerous history, and one that Mac’s been a part of for a lot longer than she thinks. And Rick Manning is not above cheating at poker to get her right at the center of it all, exactly where he needs her to be.

 

Piloting Fury Part 5: Reporting for Duty

I reported to the Fury, as ordered, but Manning was nowhere to be found. That didn’t much please me. I wanted to be well out of New Hibernian space before the Dubrovnik got underway. I hoped like hell Manning had known what he was doing when he recalibrated my shackle. If he didn’t, there’d be no doubt when my arm broke out in blisters, and it would be downhill from there. I felt bad for leaving Captain Harker high and dry. He’d been good to me, and that was more than most indentureds could boast. If I hadn’t been so greedy, I’d have been a free woman by now, with at least enough credits to survive on until I found a ship in need of a pilot.

The situation didn’t suck nearly as bad as it could have. No one knew that better than I did. So, I figured since I was going to be bound to the Fury — at least until I could find a way free, I might as well get to know my way around.

The cargo bay was minuscule in comparison to that of the Dubrovnik, but the Dubrovnik was an orca class freighter, the biggest made. Still, Fury didn’t have to turn over the majority of the profits to an interstellar conglomerate. It was almost physical pain to think those profits could have all been mine.

The hold was clean and empty. Manning had just unloaded a mish mash of supplies for the spaceport, on which he’d turned a tidy profit. I knew that because he had bet those profits in our poker game only a few hours ago. Since NH372 was an isolated station, it paid well for the niceties of civilization. The place survived and thrived because it was the last outpost before the long trek to the Outer Rim and beyond.

I knew Manning was planning to take on a load of New Hibernian whiskey in space. I suspected that was because it wasn’t completely aboveboard. Lots of planets and stations on the edge of the Rim were taxed up to the teeth where luxury items were concerned, and smuggling was big business.

The small mess hall, like the rest of the ship, was clean and orderly. I wouldn’t have pegged Manning for such a neat nick. I was surprised to find a good supply of intergalactic specialties in the replicator. I hadn’t figured Manning for a foodie either. Having never had access to anything more than basic rations, I programmed in a bagel with cream cheese and ate it while standing, contemplating the strange textures and the tang of the cheese. I’d heard complaints from officers on Harker’s crew that most replicator favorites were more Old Terran nostalgia than actual knowledge of how those dishes were supposed to taste – not that an indentured had much experience with gourmet cuisine from any planet.

In spite of the fact that the majority of the ship was given over to cargo, there was a small, but well equipped gym and an observation deck. The captain’s quarters were locked. As if I’d bloody steal anything. The door next to it was also locked. I wondered if Manning was planning to house me in the cargo hold. My belly gave a tight little quiver at the possibility that he might just use me as his bed warmer. That sort of thing was strictly forbidden under the laws that governed the humane treatment of indentureds, though rules where indentureds were concerned were often and easily ignored. Back on deck, I plopped down in the pilot’s chair and examined the inside of my forearm for the millionth time. It was only slightly red from Manning’s minor surgery. Still no rash. But then we hadn’t left the station yet.

The same greedy fucks who thought it was a good idea to bring back indentured servitude as a way to pay off debt were the ones who had come up with a damn near foolproof method of keeping indentureds from escaping. They had engineered a virus, a small dose of which was injected into the sub dermal chip implanted in each indentured’s arm. What that meant was that if anyone attempted escape beyond the proximity detector programmed into the device, or if anyone tampered with the shackle, it would release the virus. While it wasn’t contagious to the general population, it guaranteed a slow, rotting death for the escapee. The advanced symptoms were similar to leprosy of the dark ages, though not at all related and far more painful. It all began with an angry rash around the shackle followed by a high bone-break sort of fever. Then it settled into the chest like viral pneumonia as the poor bastards’ lungs filled up and they all but drown in their own body fluids. By the time that past, at least enough that the blessing of a quick death was denied, the slow, painful loss of body parts began. If indentureds returned to their owners or were recaptured in time, they were injected with an antidote. If they missed that short window of opportunity, then the antidote was useless to them. Beyond that there was no cure, and the only recourse was one of the three plague worlds where the infected were sent to live out what remained of their miserable lives.

While I studied my shackle, I absently ran my fingers over the control panel, slightly warm to my touch. Suddenly the screen activated and Rick Manning smiled down at me from on high.

He was very much out of uniform. In fact the man was naked. At least he had enough professionalism to give me just an upper body shot. The fucker was sitting on the edge of a very rumpled bed. Had he really left me alone and scared shitless in a nasty back-alley room so he could shag the goddamned barmaid?

“Did you sleep well Mac?” He scrubbed a hand over his stubbled cheek and stifled a yawn.

“From the looks of things, not as well as you did,” I growled.

“Me?” He glanced back behind him at the empty bed, and I tried not to notice the way the muscles of his belly tensed when he laughed. “Oh yeah, It was one helluva sleep. I’m still a bit hung over, though, thanks to you.”

“You don’t look any worse for the wear,” I said, biting back a far less polite comment. I was now his indentured after all.

“Well you know me, stiff upper lip and all that. I never complain.” He waved an arm dismissively and continued. “I’m sorry not to be on deck to welcome you aboard.” He leaned forward and looked at me through storm grey eyes. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to have you on the crew. You’re gonna love piloting Fury. I promise it’ll be way more fun than the Dubrovnik. Truth is you’ll be much more at home with us. You’ll see. After all, we share something far more intimate than sex, Mac. We share the appreciation of a good ship.” His smile turned wicked. “The thought of your very fine bottom in the pilot’s chair, the thought of your expert hands all over that console commanding Fury’s every move, well that’ll ease my suffering immensely.

“Anyway, I figure you’ve done a bit of exploring on your own and helped yourself to breakfast, I hope. No skimping with rations on my ship.” He ran a hand through slightly shaggy bronze hair that looked like he might have spent time in the sun and the wind rather than in the dark, sterile, chill of space, then he puffed out a sigh and looked around. “It’s hard to know where to begin with Fury. You already know the ship’s been modified and modernized and tarted up more times than an Hanorian hooker.” He leaned forward, arms resting on muscular thighs, but at least he had the decency to keep the sheet draped over his lap. “Doesn’t matter though. Fury just keeps getting better and better.”

He snapped his fingers. “That reminds me. There’s something I need to tell you before I forget. Oh you’ll figure it out on your own, as intuitive as you are, but it’s really best we get it all out in the open right now so there won’t be any uncomfortable moments.” He stifled another yawn. “Don’t worry. It’s not bad or anything like that, but it’s still best to be forewarned.” He leaned still closer and I mirrored his posture, holding my breath, waiting for it with a fist tightening in my gut. He shot a glance around as though he was afraid someone might overhear. I wondered again if whatever bimbo he’d rogered all night was still in the room just beyond the range of his device. He drew a dramatic breath and ran the tip of his tongue across his upper lip in a gesture that could have been nerves, but could just as easily have been a come on. “Unlike most ships, Fury’s not a she. Fury is most definitely a he.”

I blinked, then blinked again. I tried to swallow back a laugh, but it came out an undignified snort. Indentured or not, I lost it. “Fury’s a he? Are you fucking serious? You’ve cheated me in poker, Shanghaied me into indefinite servitude and tampered with my shackle while drunk on your ass, then you couldn’t even be bothered to be here when I arrived. And the most important thing you can think of to tell me in your post coital hung over state is that the Fury is a boy?”

To his credit, he at least blushed a little bit, then he folded his arms across his chest as though he just realized he was naked. “A man, actually, Fury’s a man. Every ship has its quirks and every captain has his superstitions, so I’m gonna have to insist that you humor me on this.”

“Fine! You’re the boss. I’ll refer to the Fury as a Veletian hermaphrodite if that’ll please you. Now is there anything of importance you might want to fill me in on before I take … himout of space dock? I really don’t want to be here when Harker finds out he’s without a pilot.”

“Right, well unless you have questions, I’m sure you can figure it out. After all, you’re the best pilot I know. You’ll find the flight plan in the computer, and we rendezvous with the Torrington at 19:00.” He yawned again and stretched like a New Hibernian cave cat in the sun, a move that nearly caused the sheet to lose containment. “Knock yourself out.”

“Shouldn’t you get your ass over here then?”

“Oh, I’m already onboard,” he said. “I’ll be sleeping it off in the Captain’s cabin. Give me a shout an hour before we rendezvous with the Torrington.” He yawned again and the view screen went blank.

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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